I grew up playing tennis in the 1970s, which was a great time for the sport of tennis. It was then that tennis really became more of a mainstream sport than a sport for the privileged, especially here in the United States. With the likes of Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, and others, there were plenty of personalities to fuel the rivalries that took place on and off the court. Since that time, many great players have come and gone. Because it is difficult to compare players of different eras in any sport due to technology changes and higher fitness standards, selecting the greatest player ever can be a difficult and very subjective task.
One thing I think most fans can agree on is that we are currently witnessing 3 of the greatest ever in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic.
Despite the challenge, here is my list of the ten greatest male tennis players of the Open Era – 1968 to present. I have actually included eleven players here with two greats tied for the tenth position.
10. Ken Rosewall
- Born: November 2, 1934
- Resides: Sydney, Australia
- Turned pro: 1957
- Retired: 1980
- Career prize money: $1,602,700
- 133 career titles
- 8 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 4 Australian, 2 French, 2 US Open
- 15 Pro Majors: 2 US Pro, 5 Wembley Pro, 8 French Pro
- Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1980
With a long career that included both the pre and post Open Era, Ken Rosewall certainly deserves a place among the all-time greats of tennis. His eight Grand Slam titles combined with 15 Major Championships undoubtedly qualifies Rosewall a place in tennis immortality. With a career that started in the early 1950s and ended with his retirement in 1980, the quick and agile Aussie was renowned for his backhand and crisp and accurate volleying. His last Grand Slam title came at the 1972 Australian Open at the age of 37, still a record for the oldest Grand Slam winner.
I watched Ken Rosewall play during the latter part of his career and at the time probably did not realize the greatness I was watching. To compete at his age with the next generation of tennis greats speaks volumes to his conditioning and mental toughness. I am placing him in the tenth position along with Andre Agassi as I feel that both players are worthy of a top ten.
10. Andre Agassi
- Born: April 29, 1970
Las Vegas, Nevada
- Resides: Las Vegas, Nevada
- Turned pro: 1986
- Retired: 2006
- Career prize money: $31,152,975
- 61 career titles
- 8 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 4 Australian, 1 French, 2 US Open, 1 Wimbledon
- Olympic Gold Medalist 1996
- Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 2011
Who can forget the young, brash, long-haired Andre Agassi when he first arrived on the tennis scene in the late 1980s? I have to admit that at first I was put off by his seemingly “rock star” looks and attitude. But something happened along the way, and by the time he finished his 20-year career, I was not only a fan but I had also come to respect him as a great player and spokesman for the game. With those killer ground strokes and returns of serve, no top-10 list would be complete without Andre Agassi.
Off the court, Agassi has proven to be a champion as well. There may be no athlete out there who does more for their community than Agassi and his wife, tennis legend Steffi Graf.
9. John McEnroe
- Born: February 16, 1959
Wiesbaden, West Germany
- Resides: New York City
- Turned pro: 1978
- Retired: 1992
- Career prize money: $12,547,797
- 105 career titles
- 7 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 3 Wimbledon, 4 US Open
- Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1999
John McEnroe: What do we do about Johnny Mac? Well, for starters we include him on our list of all-time greats. When it came to hard courts, fast surfaces, and creative shot-making, there may have been no one better.
His fiery attitude and occasional bad-boy behavior made tennis fans either hate him or love him. Underneath was a highly competitive athlete who hated to lose and sometimes let his emotions get the best of him.
Who can forget his epic battles with rival Jimmy Connors and his five-set loss to Bjorn Borg in the 1980 Wimbledon final, one of the greatest matches in Wimbledon history?
8. Jimmy Connors
- Born: September 2, 1952
East St. Louis, Illinois
- Resides: Santa Barbara, CA
- Turned pro: 1972
- Retired: 1996
- Career prize money: $8,641,040
- 147 career titles
- 8 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 1 Australian, 2 Wimbledon, 5 US Open
- Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1998
No one dominated tennis more during the mid-1970s than Jimmy Connors. In 1974 alone, Connors had a staggering 99-4 record and won the three Grand Slam tournaments that he entered. Connors was banned from playing in the French Open in 1974 due to his association with World Team Tennis, and this prevented him from a possible Grand Slam sweep. Despite peaking in the 1970s, Connors had a long and impressive tennis career, retiring in 1996. Connors still holds the record for ATP tour titles with 109.
7. Ivan Lendl
- Born: March 7, 1960
- Resides: Goshen, Connecticut
- Turned pro: 1978
- Retired: 1994
- Career prize money: $21,262,417
- 144 career titles
- 8 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 2 Australian, 3 French, 3 US Open
- Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 2001
The quiet and stoic Czech with the big serve was the most dominant player of the 1980s. Lendl wore down his opponents with his powerful ground strokes, topspin forehand, and incredible level of conditioning. He was the world’s top-ranked player for four years, and held the number one ranking in the world for 270 weeks, a record in that day. In contrast to many of his more outspoken peers, Lendl was known for letting his game do his talking.
6. Bjorn Borg
- Born: June 6, 1956
Sodertalje, Stockholm County, Sweden
- Resides: Stockholm, Sweden
- Turned pro: 1973
- Retired: 1983
- Career prize money: $3,655,751
- 101 career titles
- 11 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 6 French, 5 Wimbledon
- Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1987
What was not to love about the long-haired, blonde Swede with the killer ground game? With ice water in his veins, the quiet Borg dominated tennis in the late 1970s and had some memorable matches with the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. Borg dominated Wimbledon, winning the title five consecutive years from 1976 to 1980.
Despite his relatively brief career (he retired in 1983 at the age of 26), Borg won 11 Grand Slam titles, all at Wimbledon and the French Open. Borg was the first player of the modern era to win more than 10 majors. In my book Bjorn Borg could have been a top five all-time had he continued to play and not retired while seemingly in the prime of his career.
5. Pete Sampras
Born: August 12, 1971
- Resides: Lake Sherwood, California
- Turned pro: 1988
- Retired 2002
- Career prize money: $43,280,489
- 64 career titles
- 14 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 2 Australian, 7 Wimbledon, 5 US Open
- Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 2007
Pete’s place in tennis history is difficult to judge as he only won three of the four Grand Slam events over the course of his career. Clearly more comfortable on hard courts and grass how do we decide one’s place when they dominate on one surface and struggle on another. When Pete retired in 2002, he was considered to be the best player of all-time although some would dispute this. He was number one in the world rankings for six consecutive years and his 14 Grand Slam titles was a record at the time. Who can forget his epic battles with Andre Agassi that made the 1990s a great decade for tennis? Pete went out on top when he won the 2002 US Open, his last Grand Slam tournament. But, without a French Open title, or even a final, how do we decide where he belongs in the list of best ever. For now I think he comes in at the number five spot.
4. Rod Laver
- Born: August 8, 1938
Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia
- Resides: Carlsbad, California
- Turned pro: 1962
- Retired 1979
- Career prize money: $1,565,413
- 200 career titles
- 11 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 3 Australian, 2 French, 2 US Open, 4 Wimbledon
- 9 Pro Slam Singles Titles: 3 US Pro, 4 Wembley Pro, 1 French Pro, 1 Wimbledon Pro
- Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1981
It’s difficult to assess how Rod Laver would have fared against the players of today, but I suspect the redheaded Aussie would have done just fine. It’s hard to argue with the “Rockets” record. He was ranked number one in the world for seven straight years (1964 – 1970) and has more career titles (200) than anyone in the history of the game.
He is the only player to have twice won the Grand Slam, doing it once as an amateur in 1962 and again as a pro in 1969. If Laver was not excluded from the Grand Slam tournaments during a five-year period in the mid-1960s, who knows how many he would have won. During this time period, the pre-open era, the Grand Slam tournaments were for amateurs only. The “open era” in tennis did not begin until 1968, when professionals were finally allowed to compete in the Grand Slam events. Given that Laver was ranked number one in the world during this five-year period, it’s likely he would have won many more Grand Slam titles.
3. Novak Djokovic
- Born: May 22, 1987
- Resides: Monte Carlo, Monaco
- Turned pro: 2003
- Career prize money: $143,059,955
- 78 career titles
- 17 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 8 Australian, 5 Wimbledon, 3 US Open, 1 French Open
- Current active player
Placing Novak Djokovic on this list was an easy decision, but where to place him was not. At 32 years of age and in the late prime years of his career, Djokovic is clearly the best player in the world at the moment and has the potential to win many more Grand Slam titles. With 17 Grand Slam titles already under his belt, he certainly has the potential to surpass Federer’s total of 20. But, in the highly competitive world of tennis, he could also succumb to injury and miss out on some of his best remaining years, so the jury is still out on his ultimate place in tennis history.
Based on his body of work to date, he has certainly made the case that he is deserving of a top three all-time. With his 2016 French Open title, Djokovic became the eight-man to secure a career Grand Slam. His dominating performance at the 2020 Australian Open and his epic 5-set win against Roger Federer at the 2019 Wimbledon Championship makes it clear that Djokovic is the best player in the world at the moment. But, is his body of work to date, and his status as the current number 1 enough to grant him greatest of all-time status? Time will tell, but for now we place Djokovic at number 3 all-time.
2. Rafael Nadal
- Born: June 3, 1986
Manacor, Majorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
- Resides: Manacor, Majorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
- Turned pro: 2001
- Career prize money: $120,583,119
- 84 career titles
- 19 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 1 Australian, 12 French, 4 US Open, 2 Wimbledon
- 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist – Beijing Summer Olympics
- Current active player
Were it not for the recurring tendinitis in his knees, and wrist injuries, Rafael Nadal may well have a few more Grand Slam titles to his already impressive resume. At 33 years of age, the fiery Spaniard, known as Rafa and “The King of Clay,” already has 19 Grand Slam titles and certainly has the potential to catch Roger Federer. Rafael is regarded as the greatest clay-court player of all-time, although fans of Bjorn Borg may dispute this claim. His record 12th French Open title in 2019, in dominating fashion, certainly makes it difficult to imagine anyone being better on clay.
While it is difficult to draw comparisons of players from different generations I think Nadal has proven that he deserves to be considered among the best to ever grace the courts. Winning 2 Grand Slams in 2019, including his gusty, marathon 5-set win at the US Open certainly raises the possibility that he will catch and potentially pass Roger Federer in the coveted race to capture the most Grand Slams titles.
1. Roger Federer
- Born: August 8, 1981
- Resides: Bottmingen, Switzerland
- Turned pro: 1998
- Career prize money: $129,231,891
- 103 career titles
- 20 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 6 Australian, 1 French, 5 US Open, 8 Wimbledon
- Current active player
It’s hard not to select Roger Federer as the greatest of all time. His record 20 Grand Slam titles speak for themselves, and even at the age of 38, he is still winning and competing at the highest levels. His 310 weeks ranked as number one in the world is an open-era record. From 2004 to 2008, Federer went 237 consecutive weeks being ranked number one in the world, a record that may never be surpassed. Even though younger players are now finding a way to beat him, his consistently high level of play over his twenty-year career is a testament to his conditioning and ability.
Winning the 2018 Australian Open after his outstanding 2017 season that saw him win Wimbledon and the Australian Open prove without a doubt that Roger Federer is indeed the greatest of all-time. Barring injury, Roger will continue to be a force to be reckoned with for who knows how long? His dramatic 5-set loss to Novak Djokovic at the 2019 Wimbledon Championship proves that even at almost 38 years of age that he can still compete with anyone. Roger certainly had his chances to secure Grand Slam number 21, a loss that will haunt him with limited opportunities remaining, but he is setting a new level for excellence at an age when most players have long since retired.